Soccer: Double loss makes uphill battle even tougher for Phoenix

By Terry Maddaford

It has been a mixed A-League season for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images
It has been a mixed A-League season for the Wellington Phoenix. Photo / Getty Images

Any attempt to turn around what has been, at best, a mixed A-League season has become a lot harder for the Wellington Phoenix who meet in-form Melbourne Victory tonight.

They will be without young Tyler Boyd who copped a mandatory one-match ban for two yellow cards in the midweek loss to Brisbane Roar, and Manny Muscat, who after playing all but 15 minutes of the first 14 matches of the season, will sit out the next three after being found guilty of striking an opponent in the same game.

Losing two of only three players to have appeared in all matches this season has given coach Ricki Herbert a selection problem he could do without as he tries to get some consistency from his players who have yet to convince as genuine contenders.

And trying to produce anything like the form so sadly missing at crucial times in the first half of the season against a team like the Victory will be a tall order.

The Phoenix go into tonight's game having won only two of 16 matches against the Victory. At AAMI Park they have yet to win.

The hosts have won the last four against the Phoenix, going back to October 2011 and including the 3-2 loss at Etihad Stadium last October when All Whites and former Phoenix striker Marco Rojas scored either side of halftime to lay the foundation.

In that game, Jeremy Brockie scored twice late in the game - his first two goals of the season and the launching pad for the 10 he has now scored to join Daniel McBreen at the top of the golden boot. Brockie leads the season shot count with 41, five more than McBreen.

But Herbert, who has now overtaken former Victory coach Ernie Merrick as the coach in charge of most A-League matches, will be more concerned with a result than statistics.

While he will stick with his long-established defensive quintet, he must make calls in the midfield and on attack in replacing Muscat and Boyd.

Belgian Stein Huysegems could win a starting slot, ahead of the exciting Benjamin Totori, alongside Brockie and Louis Fenton up front. Alex Smith or Cameron Lindsay could be in line for Muscat's midfield spot.

Lindsay has been with the team from the outset of this two-match trip while Smith left the field after coming on as a substitute against Brisbane. The team were joined on Thursday by defender Michael Boxall even before Muscat's case went before the judiciary.

Smith was later cleared of what was a suspected fractured cheekbone and could regain the spot he surrendered to Dani Sanchez in the attacking midfield role a few weeks ago.

Perilously close to dropping well outside the top six, the Phoenix will again keep tabs on other 15th round games this weekend, especially the second of three games today when Sydney FC travel to play Perth Glory.

In tomorrow's match of the round, new boys Western Sydney Wanderers entertain leaders Central Coast Mariners.

The Mariners hold a two-point lead over Adelaide who are away to Newcastle in today's early game.

Melbourne Victory v Wellington Phoenix
AAMI Stadium, Melbourne
9.45pm, SS2

- NZ Herald

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